Review: Wreck-It Ralph
Didn’t think you’d see a movie review on a video game website, did you? Well, I didn’t think I was going to be doing a movie review myself, but after seeing Disney’s latest contribution to animated cinema, I couldn’t help but shed my thoughts upon it.
A long time ago in some random US city presumably far, far away, there was an arcade called Litwak’s Arcade, which has been open for thirty years straight. The games of this arcade are special as their characters are all sentient, having built a community between the various games by using a surge protector for a central transport hub and the various power cables as conduits to move from game to game. One of the games is Fix-It Felix Jr. (an obvious take off classic Donkey Kong), in which the movie’s titular protagonist Wreck-It Ralph stars as the game villain or “Bad Guy”; this becomes a focal point in the story, as while the game hero, Fix-It Felix Jr. himself, is treated with great respect and admiration by the other game characters, Ralph is detested for his role, even though he’s only a Bad Guy at work instead of at heart. For thirty years Fix-It Felix Jr. has carried on with Felix getting the glory and Ralph being left in the mud (literally), and as a result Ralph has come down with a classic case of bad guy fatigue, feeling depressed and pessimistic about his lot in life; even the counseling of his fellow Bad Guys (who like him are only villains during work hours) at a Bad Guys Anonymous meeting does nothing to change his spirit. The final straw is when Ralph returns to Fix-It Felix Jr. and discovers that the game characters have thrown a party to celebrate their game’s 30th anniversary, all without inviting him; not only is the hatred the Nicelanders (after Fix-It Felix Jr.’s in-game setting) feel towards Ralph fully revealed during the resulting confrontation, but also just how blatantly they take Ralph’s contributions to the game for granted. Thus, Ralph, seeking a way to prove himself, decides to win a Hero Medal for himself in another game, in spite of the fact no game exists in which Bad Guys can win medals. It is here that his unexpected journey (yes, I just saw The Hobbit as well) begins…
I admit when I first saw the trailers of Wreck-It Ralph, I didn’t know what to expect. Disney films, in my experience, are very much hit or miss; they’re are either great hits or they’re total crap. It didn’t help that Disney was handling something with a volatile fanbase; unlike the fairy tales that they usually use for mediums, most of which are ancient tales that only those well versed in classical literature would be able to recall in their pre-Disney forms, video games have a highly active and equally vocal community. Many a video game movie has been shot to pieces over how poorly it followed the original game or presented itself as a movie; in fact, I can’t for the life of me remember a video game-based movie that actually did well past its fanbase or movie critics (much less the average moviegoer). And yet in spite of all those factors, Wreck-It Ralph not only puts on a great show, but also pays proper tribute to its bases in a way that not even the most vocal of video game players can critique.
Similar to what Who Framed Roger Rabbit? was to cartoons, Wreck-It Ralph is essentially a crossover movie based around the history and culture of video games. Many staple video game characters hold cameos in this movie, ranging from Sonic the Hedgehog to Pac-Man to Super Mario’s Bowser to Street Fighter’s Zangief and M. Bison (Vega), and many small references are made from the famous exclamation point and accompanying sound effect from Metal Gear Solid to “AERITH LIVES!” graffiti painted on the side of Game Central Station. In fact, one could say that the entire movie, in spite of its cast of primarily original characters and original storyline, is based around referencing every video game possible, as well as the fundamentals of video game design such as code writing and programming. This in itself served as the main attraction for the movie during its preview stage, as video game players have desired to see such a world, where their favorite characters live in a functioning inter-game cabinet community and work day-to-day jobs, in which they fight monsters and save princesses simply because it was how they made a living. Myself, I found this fairly comparable to Pixar’s Monsters Inc., and just like the former, the wonder and hilariousness of the setting flow just as nicely.
That said, for me the movie’s main selling point, besides its well constructed and unforeseeably epic storyline, was its characters. As far as protagonists go, Ralph is both likeable and sympathetic; you can’t help but feel for him with how the Nicelanders treated him as well as sympathize with his desire to be liked and accepted, as it is something we all have. More than once I wanted him to just let it go during the movie and take out his frustration, not to mention some of the landscaping, on those smug and unappreciative little midgets; the fact they can’t die in their own game (a la they respawn), and so wouldn’t be permanently harmed over Ralph’s fury, makes me wonder why such an event never took place in the game’s whole thirty year existence. Likewise, though you’d think Felix would be a total asshole over the glory and praise he receives, he really does live up to being the good guy; in fact, his official bio claims he’s incapable of being a jerk to anyone, as it’s literally not part of his programming. As such, he makes for an excellent secondary tritagonist, while his growing romance with the extremely hot yet gruff Sergeant Calhoun (essentially a takeoff of female Commander Shepard from Mass Effect) serves as an excellent side-story. And then there’s deuteragonist Vanellope von Schweetz, voiced by none other than the sweet (no pun intended) and sarcastic Sarah Silverman (try saying that five times in a row), who makes up about sixty percent of the witty commentary in the movie. While I was initially put off by her, even likening her and the rest of the in-game characters from Sugar Rush as the Cabbage Patch Kids from Hell, I eventually found her to be just as sympathetic as Ralph, while her continuous sarcasm served to offset the otherwise annoying nature of her character. And finally, there’s the main antagonist King Candy, voiced by Alan Tudyk (“I’m a leaf in the wind…”), who’s something of an evil version of the original Alice in Wonderland’s Mad Hatter; despite his obvious antagonism and JerkAss personality, his eccentricities and overly flamboyant posturing make him memorable as an oddball Disney villain.
Really, Wreck-It Ralph is an awesome movie, with many themes to be enjoyed by both children and adults; in fact, in a similar vein to The Incredibles and Brave, you almost forget that this is a Disney movie meant for younger ages. That said, I think the main issue I have with this movie is its limited setting; despite all the games of Litwak’s Arcade being connected to each other, the movie primarily takes place in the overly colorful and candy-esque (if not outright gagging) Sugar Rush game, while the “main” game Fix-It Felix Jr. and first person shooter Hero’s Duty serve as secondary settings, and other games like Pac-Man (the setting for the Bad Guys Anonymous meeting) and Tapper (used appropriately as a bar for off-duty game characters) make cameo appearances. In that regard, I would have loved to see Ralph journey into other video games during the course of the movie; could you just imagine him going through the Mushroom Kingdom, trying to run through loops in the Green Hill Zone or tag teaming with Megaman (Rockman) in Dr. Wily’s fortress? Oh well, I guess there’s always Wreck-It Ralph 2 to do all that, as I’m sure Disney, when it’s not busy pimping off Marvel movies or setting up to do the same with Star Wars, is planning on developing soon…